Baseball-Almanac.com's Divisional Series section
1999 National League Divisional Series:
Atlanta Braves (3),
Houston Astros (1)
Once again, the Braves remained among the best in the National League standings. Despite the loss of several key players (including Andres Galarraga and Kerry Ligtenberg), Atlanta managed to win 103 regular season games en route to an unprecedented eighth straight division title. The Cy Young trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were surprisingly surpassed on the mound by a fourth starter named Kevin Millwood, who went 18-7 with a second-ranked 2.68 ERA while leading the majors with a .202 opponents BA. The controversial John Rocker also stepped up as the team's third closer and boasted 38 saves in 45 opportunities for the 4th-best record in the National League (and only one save short of Mark Wohlers' franchise record of 39 in 1996). Across the diamond sat the Astros who had managed to clinch their third straight NL Central title on the final day of the regular season. Houston had also suffered an injury-plagued year that landed 14 players (including Moises Alou, Mitch Meluskey, Ken Caminiti and Richard Hidalgo) on the DL and sidelined three members of the coaching staff for significant periods of time. Despite a thinning clubhouse, Houston showed great adversity and won 97 games, only five victories fewer than its record-setting 102-win season of 1998. The Astros' pitching staff also stepped up to compensate for the loss of offensive firepower and produced two 20-game winners for the first time in club history with Mike Hampton (22-4) and Jose Lima (21-10). 1999 was also the last year to be played in the "8th Wonder of the World" known as the Astrodome. Standing-room only crowds were commonplace during the last year of "indoor" Texas baseball as a record 2.7 million fans turned out to witness its final season.
The Astros were eager to even the score with the Braves who swept them in the 1997 Divisional Series, but few experts believed it could be done. After all, the Braves had participated in every Divisional Series since it's inception in 1995. Houston's Shane Reynolds, a 16-game winner himself, managed to win Game 1 over the heavily favored Maddux who gave up a tie-breaking home run to Daryle Ward in the 6th-inning. The Astros then went on to score 4 runs in the 9th to break open the close 2-1 ballgame and finished off the Braves, 6-1. Despite the momentum-building comeback, Game 2 belonged to Kevin Millwood, who completely dominated the Astros line-up while surrendering only a single hit (solo homer to Caminiti in the 2nd) en route to a 5-1 blowout. As the Series shifted to Houston for Game 3, both teams raced neck-and-neck for 9-innings going into overtime tied at 3-3. Determined to take an advantage, the home team had the game all but won in the bottom of the 10th after loading the bases with no outs and needing only one run to win. But the Braves called in Rocker, who promptly worked them out of the jam by inducing two force-outs at the plate. Given a second chance, the Braves scored two runs in the 12th and won, 5-3. The following day, Houston appeared able to recover and fell behind quickly in Game 4 trailing 7-0 after six innings. With one last desperate attempt, the Astros offense managed to score 1 in the 7th and 4 more in the 8th closing the gap to 7-5. After hitting a three-run homer in the 8th, Caminiti had a chance to tie the game in the 9th, but fell short when his drive to deep center was caught by Andruw Jones on the warning track for the final out.
The '99 New York Mets were still riding high after defeating the Cincinnati Reds, 5-0, to become the National League's Wild Card team. Standout Al Leiter had hurled a complete game 2-hitter for the win and shortstop Rey Ordonez completed his 100th consecutive game without an error, setting a new major league mark. After finishing 18 games behind the Atlanta Braves and missing the Wild Card by 1 game in 1998, the Mets were committed to going the distance by reaching for their checkbook. The front office dug in deep and re-signed catcher Mike Piazza (seven years, $91 million) and pitching ace Al Leiter (four years, $32 million). They then proceeded to shell out another $46.1 million to land Robin Ventura, Bobby Bonilla and Rickey Henderson. Despite poor pre-season predictions by both the media and the fans, the Mets stuck by their investments, which eventually paid off. Their opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks, surprised everyone in major league baseball after making the playoffs in just their 2nd season of existence. The D'Backs had also finished strong after winning their 100th game of the year in the regular season finale. Sluggers Bernard Gilkey and Rod Barajas sweetened the win by hitting back-to-back home runs in a 10-3 win over the San Diego Padres at Bank One Ballpark. Arizona also boasted one of baseball's most intimidating pitchers nicknamed "The Big Unit". After leading the major leagues in strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games, hometown hero Randy Johnson gave the Arizona franchise its first major individual trophy by winning his second Cy Young Award.
Johnson, who had been the NL's most dominant pitcher of the year with 364 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA was given the start in Game 1. Despite 11 strikeouts, he allowed seven runs, eight hits and three walks in 8 1/3 innings. This combination of bad pitching and bad luck resulted in an 8-4 opening loss and Johnson's sixth consecutive postseason defeat (a major league record). New York's Edgardo Alfonzo on the other hand, put on a one-man-show after opening the scoring with a first-inning homer and closing it with a monstrous grand slam in the 9th. Game 2 turned the tables as Arizona's Steve Finley drove in five runs and Todd Stottlemyre did what staff ace Randy Johnson could not. Despite New York's best efforts, Finley's clutch hitting and Stottlemyre's 6 2/3 solid innings tied the Series at one game each with a 7-1 triumph. Game 3 once again tipped the scales in New York's favor as starter Rick Reed pitched 6 outstanding innings and John Olerud drove in 3 runs (2 in a 6-run, 6th inning) as the Mets rallied to a 9-2 victory and a one game lead in the Series. In addition, veteran robber Rickey Henderson (going .455, 5-for-11 in the series) stole his 6th base in the game, breaking the Division Series record set by Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians in 1996. The fourth (and final game) of the Series featured an unlikely hero named Todd Pratt. As a back up to the perennial All-Star Mike Piazza, Pratt had spent most of the season in the shadow of baseball's most popular catcher. After Piazza was injured however, Pratt came in to start behind the plate in both Games 3 and 4. Obviously annoyed by the constant comparisons, Pratt was quoted in the papers saying he didn't want to be "like Mike", Despite his convictions, the 2nd-string catcher stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 10th of Game 4 and did just that. Locked in a 3-3 tie, Pratt swung just "like Mike" and knocked out a "movie-script" homer for a thrilling 4-3 victory and a ticket to the N.L. Championship Series.
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